It was really good that Footloose were able to venture out for our 26th walk since the idea came to fruition nearly two years ago, and we again set our compass westward, out along the Military Road, in the footsteps of the Romans.
Our destination was the very small hamlet of St. John Lee (essentially just the church, the rectory and another couple of houses) situated a few miles to the north of Hexham, and we enjoyed the drive through the winter countryside along the narrow Northumbrian lanes.
At the end of the service, after a chat with the vicar, we looked around the building, admiring the beautifully interlaced fretwork screen of vine branches and the wonderful wooden ceiling, designed by W.S Hicks in 1866.
Leaving the church a little while later, we turned right along the lane towards Peaselaw Gate and thence left towards Oakwood up a steady incline. This lovely tree lined lane continued past Lark Rise and then onward toward Anick and Oakwood, passing some fine properties of this village and finally to The Rat public house with its superb views over the Tyne valley to the south.
A little further along this road, we turned back westwards, descending the signposted track between grassy fields, towards a wooded area which bordered the main A69 Carlisle – Newcastle highway. After a short walk along the edge of the roadway (thankfully separated from the thundering traffic by stout crash barriers), we emerged at the roundabout and headed south, over the River Tyne and into Hexham town.
We made our way through the old streets, across the market place, and pottered round the Abbey church (officially, the Priory and Parish Church of St. Andrew) with its veritable hoard of ancient artefacts. Of special note is the 7th century stone stool (St. Wilfrid’s throne) in the centre of the choir area, and the similarly aged crypt entrance in the centre of the nave, hidden for two centuries until being rediscovered in 1725.
After meandering around the building for a while, we returned outside and sat on a sunny seat in the old cloisters to have lunch. The chill of the air eventually roused us, and we retraced our steps back to the bridge over the Tyne, passing the Moot Hall and Old Gaol on the way.
Once over the river, we followed the path towards Acomb, passing the entrance to The Hermitage on the left (some say it is the one time abode of St. John of Beverley) before crossing back over the A69. We stayed on the public bridleway, finally leaving it via a kissing gate into a very soggy grass field towards Alnmouth Terrace. Nearing the end of our walk, we had a short sharp climb up a narrow track, before turning back along a quiet metalled road towards the tall spire of St. John Lee church, and journey’s end.